Photographing near-space objects we’re not supposed to know about

[Thierry Legault] doesn’t just look up at the stars, the uses a motorized telescope base of his own making to track and photograph secret objects orbiting the earth. What do we mean by ‘secret objects’? Spy stuff, of course.

Last month he captured some video of the X-37B, an unmanned and secretive reusable spacecraft (read: spy shuttle) which is operated by the United States Air Force. That was back on the 21st of May but a few nights later he also saw the USA-186, an optical reconnaissance (Keyhole) satellite.

After trying to cope with manual tracking using the RC control seen above [Thierry] set out to upgrade his equipment. He ended up designing his own software package (and then released it as freeware) to automatically track the trajectory of orbiting objects. He uses a second telescope to locate the object, then dials it in with the bigger telescope. Once in frame, the software takes over.

[Wired via Dangerous Prototypes]

Building an oak telescope

You might not think about the finish of your homemade telescope but if it’s build from solid oak you probably should. [Gregory Strike] built this 8″ telescope a few years back but just posted about it a few days ago. The optics are quite expensive but the rest of the build was done dirt cheap and he did a great job of it.That includes taking care to finish the oak boards that make up the octagonal body of the instrument.

This is much more approachable for the average hacker than something like the 22″ binocular build (or going way too far and building your own observatory). [Gregory] developed his design after looking at a couple of others. If you need a bit of a push to get started check out the telescope resource we ran across in our days of Internet infancy.

2-axis motion timelapse photography

[Milapse] picked up a motorized telescope base a few years ago. He’s using it to add motion to time-lapse photography. The base provides two-axis rotation controlled with a handheld keypad. Custom firmware and a bit of software allow for computer control. [Milapse] is pretty well-known in the time-lapse photography circles of the Inter-web. He’s posted a ten minute video explaining his setup and programming work for the hardware.

His use of a quality camera produces some nice video.However cost at $200 for the base, if you just want to play around with the concept you might want to stick to a webcam and LEGO setup.

[Thanks Jack]

22″ Binocular telescope


This is the worlds largest known visual binocular. Why binocular and not just a regular telescope? Well, it all has to do with clarity. Apparently when you can use both eyes, you can see much more detail and pick up light better. The author states in one story that he was able to see a spiral galaxy clearly with a binocular telescope, but couldn’t see it at all with a monocular telescope of the same power.

There is information on several models on the site. Look in the right hand column as well for useful links to parts distributors.

[via Hacked Gadgets]

Russian homemade telescope

In the Russian city of Barnaul, some enthusiasts are gathering their resources to revive a home made telescope and observatory. Built by [Mikhail Levchenko], in the mid 70’s, the telescope is quite impressive. [Levchenko] kept his hobby somewhat of a secret so as not to arouse the suspicions of his neighbors, but its pretty hard to hide a tower as tall as a house with a domed observatory on top. The telescope itself has a 16 inch glass lens that provides 500x magnification. His hobby would turn out to have a pretty big impact on the town. People would come to him hoping that his telescope could tell their fortunes. Not a believer in horoscopes, he tried to educate people with lessons in astronomy and physics. One man was said to have given up drinking after seeing Saturn.

[Levchenko] passed away in 2002 and his observatory fell into disrepair. Local thieves tried to steal pieces for scrap and the whole structure has sunken somewhat. Some of those who were inspired when young by [Levchenko] have decided to renovate it for the eclipse. Barnaul will be a prime location for viewing. The total renovation and possible relocation will cost around 2 million dollars.

In the past, we covered a high powered telescope made by some girl scouts, and this $40 USB telescope looks fun too.

WiFi telescope

We Make Money Not Art recently visited the LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain. The installation that left the strongest impression on [Regine] was the WiFi sightseeing telescope built by Clara Boj and Diego Diaz. Spain is in a situation similar to the USA: A few years ago many municipal WiFi projects launched only to be squashed because of theoretical unfair competition with local utilities. Now commercial projects like WeFi, Whisher, and FON encourage people to “share” their WiFi. Observatorio (Observatory) is designed to provide insight into the current state of local WiFi. It uses a highly directional Yagi antenna to collect wireless access data from the local area. The antenna has a 30deg aperture which is matched to a camera with an identical field of view. The observer sees the camera’s viewpoint with the WiFi data overlaid showing where accesspoints are and whether the AP is open. WMMNA also recommends you check out the WiFi Camera which photographs electromagnetic space.